Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Classics: Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Oh, how I loved Charlotte Brontë after reading her infamous classic Jane Eyre! Now I have finally read another of her novels, Villette, and do I love her just as much? No. I actually think I love her more, if that's even possible.
After living with her godmother for some time, Lucy Snowe must leave and find work. Her limited amount of options eventually leads her to a school in a French town called Villette, where she will pick up a job as a teacher and reside there for the years to come. Lucy must overcome countless obstacles, the most overwhelming being loneliness and the hurt and jealousy caused by unrequited love. At times Villette is a very dreary ride, but Lucy's strength and feminism makes it as empowering as it is.
Even now, the premise and outcome of this story are so groundbreaking and realistic; it's unlike anything I've ever read, and in essence, perfect. If I'm saying this in the twenty first century, I can't begin to imagine what it would've been like to read this when it first came out in 1853. Brontë had a lot of ambition. And these characters are just so vivid! M. Paul Emanuel is certainly a fascinating specimen, and I loved watching his character develop over time. Even when he became more likeable, he was still so spazzy and imperfect; I loved it. But no one could ever steal our heroine's thunder. It's just as easy to admire Lucy as it is to sympathize with her because she's so honest about her struggles. She doesn't pretend to be stronger than she is, and that in turn makes her stronger to some degree.

Lucy is also a very religious woman and is in the minority as a Protestant at the school she teaches English at. Villette is full of Lucy's criticism toward religious hypocrisy, especially what she found in Catholicism. This story also has a bit of a mysterious paranormal element, for the school is haunted by the apparition of a nun. This both intrigued and amused me because even though seeing seemingly random apparitions would scare just about anybody, I sometimes wonder if Lucy was simply afraid because it was a nun, or as she put it - the NUN.

While the ending left me rereading the last couple pages in disbelief, I realize that Villette is not a sob story. It's a story that centers around someone who searches for independence and finds it. It pains me, however, to see what life was like for women in the mid 1800s. Lucy Snowe shows us that being a feminist in this period makes it all the more difficult; I can't fathom how Charlotte must've been feeling when she wrote this. It must've been deep and inspiring, and where would we be if she didn't put pen to paper?

Anyone in need of a unique piece of literature must pick up Villette to quench the thirst. I must admit though that reading Villette wasn't always the easiest venture. The first half of the novel is a bit of a slower read in some spots, but the second half is quite exciting and emotional. Toward the end, my heart lit up as it did when I read Jane Eyre; Charlotte Brontë has a profound way of dropping a match on my heart with her stories. Between all the FEELINGS and her sense of feminism, I will love her forever. None can even think of touching the top of her pedestal.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Million Suns | by: Beth Revis

A Million Suns is the second installment in Beth Revis' Across the Universe trilogy. I truly loved Across the Universe, so I  had high expectations for this sequel, and fortunately, those expectations were met. A Million Suns has the same sort of intense mystery that kept me flying through the debut, so I couldn't put this one down!

In result of the resolution made in Across the Universe, Amy and Elder have a lot of problems to deal with. The citizens of Godspeed are officially done with Phydus, and while that may be the morally correct thing to do, this has caused the citizens to realize their wants, which may not always be the best for the ship. As chaos seems to increase, Amy and Elder are still uncovering more secrets about Godspeed and its history, and what is uncovered will change everything.

Because, you know, we all thought we understood the gravity of Godspeed's situation during Across the Universe, but in reality, we still didn't know diddly-squat. Seriously, a new truth is unveiled in the first chapter of A Million Suns; Beth Revis certainly didn't mess around! That's one of the aspects I love most about this trilogy: There's always a mystery to solve with secrets to uncover. Who knew that one spaceship could have such an extensive list of secrets! Even when reading this installment, there were plenty of moments in which I thought I understood the true nature of the situation, but I was proven wrong time and time again. Even when I started to think that some of the secrecy was getting excessive and I just wanted someone to come right out and say it, it all adds up in the end: There's a foe on Godspeed who is affecting a lot of what's going on, and this ship has gone through a lot more than people give it credit for. Plus, as the secrets become more explosive, so does the action, and I'm always a sucker for an explosive ending! Altogether these elements create such an unputdownable book.

There's also a lot of relationship evolution in A Million Suns, and I always thought it was interesting to watch characters' relationships change and grow. Of course, we see some more feelings sprouting between Amy and Elder, but friendships among the ship also evolve. Such change occurs  between Amy and Victria and also between Elder and Bartie... And let me just say that Elder and Bartie give me whiplash sometimes. It all demonstrates how traumatic situations can either pull people apart or tie them together. But as far as the general population of the ship... Their unease made me jittery for both Amy and Elder's sake.

But the problems Amy and Elder face on Godspeed aren't all completely new. Unfortunately, we still have to deal with my least-favorite character, Luthor. It's so easy to despise him. Amy still bears scars from a frightening scene with him in the last book, and those memories continue to haunt her, especially since Luthor hasn't changed a bit since the first book.

There are also recurring themes found in both of these first couple of books that I adored. I still love the premise of this series; a story that takes place on a spaceship is so intriguing and just screams "Critica will love this stuff!" And while I know that the final book, Shades of Earth, will be a bit different from the first two, I'm actually quite excited to see how this trilogy will pan out with such a different feel. I hope it's just as good as Across the Universe and A Million Suns, for I love these two books equally. I really couldn't have asked for anything better in A Million Suns. This has to be one of the best sequels I've read.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Best Albums for Summertime

I realize that this post is a little late because summer's basically half-over (well... it technically isn't, but my personal definition of summer is June-August), but it's never too late to add new songs to your summer playlist. Here's a list of the albums I think are perfect for summertime in their own unique ways; I always make sure to listen to these during the summer because even though these albums are great any time of the year, their magic is at its climax during the summer months.

If You Leave by Daughter
Genre: Indie

Daughter's melancholy If You Leave brings a lot of summer stillness, like being peacefully alone in the middle of a wheat field - this is what I envision when I listen to the songs from this album. (Ironically, that's what its lyric booklet is filled with pictures of, so apparently the band thought so too.) If You Leave describes a lot of self-reflection and maybe even some recklessness. Overall, it conforms to a somber version of summer.

Harmonium by Vanessa Carlton
Genre: Piano pop, singer-songwriter
As Vanessa Carlton's music always is, Harmonium is a relaxing, piano-led album. I have so much respect for Vanessa Carlton, but I still this is her best work. The laxed feel is perfect for summer. There are some melancholy moments, but her songs are always free-spirited and never too deep. Songs like "White Houses" and "Who's to Say" fit that theme perfectly, but songs like "San Francisco" have a pure ability to cheer someone up. This album also contains a wonderful hidden track, "The Wreckage," and it serves as Harmonium's darkest piece but doesn't break the flow.


Origin by Evanescence
Genre: Rock, electronic
Before Evanescence signed with Wind-Up records and released their debut album Fallen, the band created Origin, an incredibly well-done demo CD that continues to stun fans. While the band's professionally-recorded material has a heavier rock sound, Origin is the best mesh of rock and electronic music I've ever heard. Sure you can jam to it with songs like "Whisper" and "Lies" but you can also relax and daydream to it. Origin's content is deep and inspirational with a highly nostalgic feel, unlike anything I've ever heard. It's an album that suits both summer nights and hot afternoons.
Evanescence by Evanescence
Genre: Rock
Evanescence's latest self-titled album also seems to suit the summer months, at least for rock fans. This is their most carefree record to date, which is why it suits summertime so well. It isn't as sad like Fallen and Origin were and it isn't as wildly unique as The Open Door, but Evanescence also isn't entirely lighthearted; it keeps the rock sound grooving in a way that makes it impossible to sit still whilst listening to the album.

The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga
Genre: Pop
I'm just now rediscovering The Fame Monster - even though I've always loved this album, I listened to it A LOT, and then Gaga's next two albums were her best and most creative... So I kind of forgot about how good The Fame Monster really is and how perfect it is to play in the summer. Whether you want "Bad Romance" and "Telephone" for a fun time or "Speechless" and "So Happy I Could Die" for some night alone, The Fame Monster has what you need.
Born to Die by Lana Del Rey
Genre: Indie
Lana Del Rey's debut may not catch your ear at first; it certainly didn't make the best first impression on me. But after you listen to it a few times it'll hit you like a ton of bricks and you'll be listening to it all summer. Born to Die features a weird combination of indie and R&B influences, but it works. When Lana's singing a ballad, her voice is often deep and sad, but if she's singing something more playful like "Off to the Races" her vocals turn unusually childlike.

Synthetica by Metric
Genre: Alternative, indie
Synthetica is another solid combination of rock and electronic music in a perfect indie/alternative blend. It's a very chill album overall. A listener can feel like a badass when hearing songs like "Youth Without Youth" and "Synthetica," but songs like "Artificial Nocturne" and "Nothing but Time" one can just sit outside to tan - or stargaze, for that matter. I absolutely adore this album, and I can't think of a better time to listen to it than summer.
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Genre: Classic rock, psychedelic rock
Pink Floyd's experimental and relatable album Dark Side of the Moon is potentially the most loved album of all time, and once someone hears it, they understand why. Dark Side of the Moon has always been a soundtrack to how my summer day progresses. "Breathe" and "Time" are for the beginning of those dog days thick with humidity, any moment of loneliness is summed up by "The Great Gig in the Sky" and "Us and Them," "Money" is for summer fun, and "Eclipse" is for a moment of epic memories. Dark Side of the Moon is the quintessential summer album for me because it has every flavor of summer.

Enter by Within Temptation
Genre: Symphonic metal, doom metal
This pick may seem odd, for Within Temptation's debut Enter is still their heaviest and darkest album to date. But it isn't heavy in a rushing, fast-paced kind of way; Enter takes its time. So despite the heavy instrumentation and prominent growls, I find this album to be quite relaxing. Even apart from the progressive and repetitive song structures, Sharon's voice is so peaceful-sounding and high, and Enter's unique sound makes it one of my favorite albums of all time as well as one of my favorite Within Temptation albums.

Mother Earth by Within Temptation
Genre: Symphonic metal
Mother Earth is the follow-up LP to Enter, and already, the band has changed so much. The pace of the songs is much faster than that of Enter, but the songs are more noticeably outdoorsy. So at least that adds up: music + outdoorsy = summer music, am I right? While the title track is a song that's bound to grab attention from the get-go, a lot of these songs went relatively unappreciated by me until I heard them in a live setting. Between the band and the orchestra's full prominence, it's a lot to take in in their studio format.

Alas, I definitely recommend these albums for summer. I noticed that pretty much all the CDs on this list are albums I discovered in the summer, so perhaps that's another reason why I associate them with this season and feel the need to listen to them each year at this time. Do you like any of these albums and listen to them in the summer months? Let me know what's on your summer playlist.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Clinic for Dolls | UnSun

In 2010, the up-and-coming Polish band UnSun released their sophomore album, Clinic for Dolls. Despite being a gothic metal band and naturally having a darker sound to their music, Clinic for Dolls brings a bit of a dreamier side of the genre with its synths and swaying melodies.

The albums begins slowly and crescendos with the epic intro of "The Lost Way." Footsteps and echoy noises can be heard before a piano line comes in, but then guitars add in for a few measures, making sure we're ready for what's coming - because once the full instrumentation begins, this song freaking EXPLODES. The guitars are driven by absolutely beautiful synths, already displaying UnSun's ability to be dreamy and heavy at the same time. I always think of shattering glass when I hear it. With an intro like that, though, it's kind of hard to top, and it's my favorite part of the song even though the rest of it is still full of energy. After the first chorus, there's a fun guitar solo that I'm sure everyone will appreciate, but towards the end, the song slows down to the very beginning's tempo with piano and light percussion. Then the song picks up again, mimicking the awesome build at the beginning.

One thing that everyone will notice right away is lead singer Aya Stefanowicz's one-of-a-kind voice. Her voice has a very thick Polish accent and I oftentimes have no idea what she's saying, but these unique vocals are part of what I enjoy most from the band. Her accent is pretty and sets her apart from other vocalists, thus setting UnSun apart from other bands. I like it.

The title track comes next, and it's quite catchy. The verses are urgent, but the chorus is flowy and is undoubtedly my favorite part. But the next couple of tracks are probably my favorites from Clinic for Dolls. "Time" is one of the pretties songs on the album - and no, it's not a ballad. This track brings a positive message about things getting better and how nature can mimic our sorrows. The chorus is beautiful, the middle eight is kind of creepy, and the verses are just flat-out cool. It's already a great song on an instrumental and vocal scale, but I also really love the lyrical composition - "And the rain keeps falling outside as if crying on our behalf/ And the wind keeps howling outside for the eternal soul that I have."

My other favorite is "Mockers," which is such an attention-grabber; it's so heavy! The guitar riffs in the verses are so intense and harsh with their staccato and Aya emotionally sings over them, as though wrapping the whole song together. The chorus is great too, but like I said, those verses really do the trick for me. I honestly enjoyed the general sound so much that it took me a while before I even glanced at the lyrics (to understand Aya's pretty accent!), and some lines definitely caught my attention: "The bloodthirsty band creeps out of the murk/ The gun of sharp words on the verge of the dark/ to finish off our tainted hearts/ all that we saved torn apart."

"Not Enough" follows at track five. The verses really groove on both a vocal and instrumental level while the chorus flows in a smoother manner. But then things change up for the album's ballad, "The Last Tear." Don't get me wrong, "The Last Tear" has a pretty vocal line, good lyrics, and is led by piano, but it just doesn't do much for me on a personal level.

In the case of "Home," the chorus is great, as all UnSun's choruses are, but the strings and general breakdown after the first chorus probably catch my attention the most, along with the middle eight. Even though "Not Enough," "The Last Tear," and "Home" have some good qualities, they just don't push the envelope for me; they don't stand out too much. But the eighth song, "I Ceased," managed leave a better impression on me. It opens with Aya and a piano but it quickly gets heavier - and that chorus, oh my! It's quite catchy as Aya lightly sings "One word and a word too much/ was spoken between us tonight." I love that vocal line! After the middle it, the song strips back down to just piano and Aya for a verse (which sounds wonderful) before picking up and ending.

The last two songs, "A Single Touch" and "Why," unfortunately don't leave the biggest impression on me, even though I love the chorus of "A Single Touch" as well as the lyrics of "Why." But, as I've implied before with songs like "Not Enough," "The Last Tear," and " and "Home," that's UnSun's biggest flaw, and perhaps only flaw: Some songs don't have enough variety to really stand out and make me love them.

But, Clinic for Dolls is definitely a solid album overall. Their lyrics have a lot of imagery, Aya has a unique voice, and I love their general sound. I enjoyed every song, but the only issue is that hardly any of the songs are too wildly different from one another. The lack of diversity is by far their weakest point. I really hope they try branching out more for the next album because this band has so much potential. Clinic for Dolls was a decent album, I just think UnSun can be better. I'm eager to hear whatever new material they end up releasing.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Classic Novels

For those who don't already know, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, we're talking about classic novels. I've read quite a few classics over the years, but I still haven't read as many as I'd like to. I even made it a life goal to read everything by the Bronte sisters and I'm not even close to fulfilling that. So, this is my current top ten favorite classic novels. I tried not to include too many 'modern classics' as well as nonfiction novels since there are so many that could be considered and would probably take up another list of ten.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Oh, Jane Eyre. Where do I even begin? If I was forced to pick just one favorite novel, I think this would be it. The writing is impeccable. Jane is a self-respecting character, Mr. Rochester is perfectly imperfect, and both are so feminist for their time period. All the while, this story is so incredibly emotional; my heart kept fluttering because of how romantic it could be and my heart kept breaking when it seemed that everything was going wrong. All of that, plus a mysterious element - what's not to love? This book changed everything for me.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is the first classic I read that wasn't C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I loved it. There are a lot of different things going on in this book that are moving and can capture just about anybody, all seen through the eyes of a child. Between Tom Robinson and Boo Radley... Life just isn't fair; I always choke up at the end of this book. Besides, I think we can all agree that Atticus Finch is one of the most noble characters ever created.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
People have been considering Life of Pi a modern classic, and frankly, I believe it deserves such a title. This novel is split into three parts. In part one, we get to understand Pi as a character, for he's quite complex. Even though the pace was slow, I enjoyed reading about him and his beliefs concerning subjects such as animals and religion. Part two is full of struggle and hopelessness, but it's also miraculous. Those two parts already made the book a unique reading experience, but part three... Part three ruined my life. It just slaps you in the face and fills your head with questions. It's unlike any other book on the planet.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
 I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was fourteen. Due to Holden Caulfield's infamously unusual narration, it's a book that people seem to love to death or hate with a burning passion, and I loved it. I understood the teen angst; I understood what Holden meant about the world being so "phony." But lately, I've been thinking I need to reread it. I'm afraid that because I've grown up I won't get as much out of it as I used to. I think I read it at the perfect time in my life; hopefully my insight hasn't gone away.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I never heard of Their Eyes Were Watching God until this year when a teacher recommended it to me. The story follows a woman named Janie who gets married three times. The first two men don't treat Janie very well, but then she finally meets Tea Cake, the third, and she doesn't care what anyone thinks of them. Janie's a strong character with a bittersweet story... I couldn't help but cry when I read this one.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is the most depressing novel I've ever read alongside Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The writing in this book is gorgeous; it's probably what I liked most about it. While the ending is a bit open-ended, knowing that the bell jar did in fact cover Plath again later in her life makes it all so melancholy. I always thought the metaphor of this book was a bit peculiar, and even though I got Plath's drift, I don't think I truly understood it until I saw someone who seemed to be under a bell jar.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this book; it went in a much different direction than I initially expected. The Great Gatsby is a story with a high amount of drama and beautiful prose. Each character is connected in some way or another, and all of them are suffering the consequences of their own actions or the actions of others'. It's quite an intriguing read.

1984 by George Orwell
This book scares the crap out of me. George Orwell's vision of the future is the worst possible scenario that anyone could ever come up with. No one has any privacy - not even within their own skull. I don't see how anyone can read 1984 and not be impacted in some way.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
I wasn't excited to read this book for English class because I really had no idea what to expect, but I ended up really enjoying this one. The main character isn't in an ideal state of mind and it's easy to get frustrated with his perception of events (in addition to some of the events themselves), but it's tragic because of this. It's one of those books that kept me reading as much as I could. Altogether, A Separate Peace was a big surprise for me.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
My thought upon finishing this book: "What a mess." And I don't really mean that in a bad way. Wuthering Heights is such a crazy story; it was hard for me to get into it in some parts because I just got so frustrated with Cathy and her ability to make sure nothing goes well. I've never read anything quite like this. This novel has such a strange, unique feel to it... It's bound to leave an impression on anyone who reads it.
Feel free to let me know how you feel about the books on my list and leave me a link to yours. It's always fun to see what everyone comes up with. I hope your day is stellar!